I am not remotely embarrassed to admit that the reason I first started buying Just Seventeen magazine as a young teen was that I had a bit of a crush on the (then) young Phillip Schofield. One day he was the cover star – complete with cool leather jacket and moody gaze – so I scrabbled my pocket money together, bought a copy and my love affair with the magazine was born. In the days pre-internet it was much harder to get hold of physical copies of pictures of the famous people we fancied; with the exception of a trip to Athena to buy a huge (and pricey) poster, magazines were our best bet and this one didn’t disappoint.
Once I had my hands on Just Seventeen, of course, my infatuation with Phillip Schofield quickly faded, as I now had access to all the other attractive well-known men on the planet. Oh, Kiefer Sutherland…
Just Seventeen was first published by EMAP in October 1983 as ‘a brand new magazine for girls’. This was not when I was introduced to it, though, as I was only eight then; far too young to be browsing through some of its racier stories…Editor Dave Hepworth said that it went through a number of name changes (‘Sasha’ and ‘Seventeen’, until the U.S. magazine of the same name tutted loudly at them) before arriving at Just Seventeen through a suggestion by Peter Strong, who worked for EMAP. As Hepworth says, it’s very possible that Strong was listening to the Beatles’ classic ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ at the time…
Teen magazines for girls, up until Just Seventeen’s arrival, were much tamer, much more focussed on romance and were slowly losing relevance with the new generation of much more switched on females. Jackie and My Guy always contained photo stories of doe-eyed girls mooning over boys and Hepworth (who’d previously been working on pop mag Smash Hits) knew that there was a market for a brighter, more fashionable and more enlivening read.
A preview edition was given away with Smash Hits, followed a week later by the official launch of the new fortnightly publication. It starred a girl in vivid red boxing gear on the cover with the phrase ‘Seconds out…issue one’ above her. The tag line for the mag was ‘Everything a girl could ask for’ and it didn’t take long for the young women of the UK to take this exciting new read to their hearts; I remember feeling really excited every time I went to the newsagents to buy it…how grown up everybody must have thought I was (or at least that’s what I believed at the time)!. The circulation quickly rose to several hundred thousand copies and they lured new readers in with the temptations of posters (‘Double sided – Duran Duran and Five Star!’) and giveaway gifts (‘Free comb!’).
Alongside genuinely interesting interviews with people from all strands of the showbiz and sporting worlds - ‘Emily Lloyd – from school girl to movie star in under a year’; ‘Andre Agassi – less boring than Becker!’; ‘The Beastie Boys – we talk to the rudest men in rock’; ‘We snoop around at Going Live!’ (Phillip Schofield featured A LOT in this magazine….) - there was plenty of other entertaining stuff:
Fashion pages (‘Keep cool in the new spring coats’, ‘How to dress like Heidi’ – no, I’m not sure that was ever a ‘look’ either), competitions (‘Win a day out with Bros!’), important factual stuff (‘How to cope with periods’, ’Advice on smoking’, ‘How to deal with being ditched’), horoscopes and occasional reports on topics in the news kept the pages feeling exciting – there was something in every edition that you wanted to read.
It was never short of the REALLY good stuff either. Up close pictures of our heart-throbs - Rob Lowe, Johnny Depp, Simon Le Bon, Stefan Dennis (yes, from Neighbours. Yes, he was considered a ‘heart-throb’ back then apparently…) - were all brought to us ‘in glorious colour!’ so we could adorn our bedroom walls and spend all night dreaming about bumping into them on our way to school and becoming their girlfriends.
Often the informative articles were pitched slightly higher than at girls of my age but I still veraciously poured over copy titled ‘Marriage – are you ready to love and to cherish?’ and ‘I went too far at an office party’. I obviously thought ‘Well, I might be only 14 at the moment, but one day I’ll be an adult and when I walk into that office job and bag that sexy accountant I’ll know just what to do!’ Or not do, as the case may be.
The first page that most girls turned to, of course, was the advice page. All the letters were said to have come from real people and the ‘agony aunts’ (including the two that I remember well, Anita Naik and Nick Fisher, who gave us ‘a boy’s view’) were frank , supportive and never condescending about issues that we could all identify with. Often the magazine received criticism from those who felt it was too truthful about these subjects but as other, more sensible, human beings realised, it’s the lack of decent information around contentious subjects that get teenagers into trouble, not the other way round. And it was obviously advice that people believed in: often the letter writers were much older than the target demographic of the magazine.
Just Seventeen held the leading teen mag spot until 1994, when newbies Sugar and It’s Bliss hit the stands. They were glossier and more like woman’s magazines than their predecessors and fed into their audience’s growing aspirations. Just Seventeen’s up-until-that-point loyal readership began to ebb away and despite a change to a monthly publication in 1997 (and a change of name to the cooler J-17), sales continued to fall and it was eventually closed in 2004.
I didn’t stay with Just Seventeen/J-17 until the end, I’m afraid. At some point during my teens I was enticed over to More – a magazine that wasn’t afraid of trying to shock (and in the case of my mother, More often succeeded at this when she glimpsed some of their ‘lurid’ articles her innocent daughter was now devouring) with features such as their now legendary ‘Position of the Fortnight’ and very frank articles about sex and relationships.
But I shall always think fondly of Just Seventeen; it was my first foray into a more mature world - I’d been reading Mandy up until that point - and it was also great common ground between other girls at school: ‘Have you got the latest copy of Just Seventeen? Did you read that article on beauty contests?’ or ‘How cute is Phillip Schofield?!’ (That was just me saying that, obviously.)
Thank you Just Seventeen. Your pertinent articles, combined with your warm, friendly tone and non-patronising advice were a gentle glimpse into a more adult space but without trying to make us grow up too fast. You gave us really useful tools that we could equip ourselves with before stepping forward into new life experiences.
And your posters of fit pop stars were much appreciated as well!